Architecture & Design, Economic Development, and Real Estate

616 expands its urban community

It's so much more than a building project.

November 28, 2012
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616 expands its urban community
The 616 Lofts on Ionia include 20 loft apartments in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids beside Van Andel Arena. Courtesy 616 Development

When the new version of the Grand Rapids Brewing Co. opens on the ground floors of 616 Development’s newest renovation next week, the former Hawkins and Gunn Co. buildings at 1 and 7 Ionia Ave. SW will be almost fully occupied.

Residents began moving into the 21 apartments on floors three, four and five right after Thanksgiving. Monica Clark, who heads the company’s property management firm, 616 Lofts, said the building’s new community should be completely established in just a few weeks. Sixteen are one-bedroom units while the other five offer two bedrooms; all 21 were pre-leased.

“My remaining goal and job coming into a property just after construction is to make sure that we follow through with everything we said we were going to do,” said Clark.

The company offers its renters some one-of-a-kind perks; it feels it needs to acquaint its new residents with the neighborhood and establish its entry in a growing urban community.

“When we started down this road long ago, we found this demand for downtown urban residential market-rate apartments. Developing these buildings is obviously a challenge that we have kind of overcome, so we have that part figured out. So the next part is, obviously, filling these units, and we’ve got that part figured out because we’ve pre-leased every unit we’ve ever developed,” said Derek Coppess, principal of 616 Development.

616 Lofts at Ionia interior
The interior of an apartment at 616 Lofts at Ionia. Courtesy 616 Development

“What we’re really, really trying to be good at, though, is we’re trying to be the experts and the best in the world at creating communities downtown that are sustainable, vital and organic. That’s what our mission is. It’s not so much building and filling units — that’s been happening since ancient Rome. It’s not like we’ve created a new widget,” he said.

“We’re just trying to infuse this community piece to it and connect these tenants to all these great amenities that our city has. We kind of look at ourselves more as educating these new residents about the downtown community. So that’s the challenge and the fun part of what we do.”

One way the firm does that is with the 616 Pass, a card that features the firm’s logo. “Basically what we’ve done is we’ve worked hard to establish relationships with downtown businesses, where they offer discounts to our residents. It’s our way of encouraging our residents to not only use the businesses that are around them, but also to get them acquainted with what is here,” said Clark.

“Some of the people that come into our units are not from the area and, quite honestly, they’re not as aware of what is around them as we’d like them to be. Our goal is to get them to be engaged members of the downtown community, connect them with the downtown businesses and introduce them to what is in downtown,” she added.

Another perk 616 is offering is what it calls an on-board package. “It’s a first-time introduction to our residents that are moving in to any of our 616 lofts. We look to get them signed up for memberships at the gym, or signed up through any of the partners or relationships that we’ve developed. For example, we have a grocery co-op that we are managing through Door-to-Door Organics and we can get them set up there,” said Clark of the online grocery store that delivers fresh produce and other foods to their doors.

Clark said 616 has a resident liaison at each of its properties, which now offer a total of 150 units. The resident liaisons take new tenants under their wings.

“They take them around on a tour of downtown if they’re interested, and kind of show them the ropes of how to get involved and live down here, be there to answer any questions that they may have and also be a great connection for us to be a sounding board and create the great communication back and forth on how we can make this community a better place,” said Clark.

Clark said all the residents should be in their apartments by the end of the month. Coppess added that moving into a complex downtown isn’t like moving into a suburban complex. The move-ins have to be scheduled in a densely populated and active sector such as the Ionia Avenue and Fulton Street intersection.

As for the construction phase, Coppess said it went well. The goal was to open Dec. 1 but the project was completed Nov. 23. “So we beat our deadline and we were on budget. We’re very happy,” he said.

The work cost roughly $7 million to complete. There was an uncommon characteristic of the project: Both buildings are five stories, but the ceiling on the fifth floor at 1 Ionia rose about eight feet higher than the one at 7 Ionia. The solution was to adjust the floors on the fourth floors and create bi-level apartments. “We basically built new floors and that’s where the two-story units are in the building, on the side where we removed the floor and built the two-story units, which are really, really cool,” said Coppess, who was honored recently by the Downtown Alliance with its emerging entrepreneur award.

Ken Dixon of Dixon Architecture designed the renovation and First Companies managed the work. About all that’s left to be done is to fill the second floor, which 616 has designated for office tenants.

“We have a couple of interested office users and we expect that to fill real shortly,” said Coppess. “So once Grand Rapids Brewing Co. opens on Dec. 5, we’ll move all our residents in and fill that. We’ll most likely be 100 percent full by the end of the year for that building. That’s 50,000 square feet of reactivated space inside of one year, so we’re pretty excited about that.”

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